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5 Supplemental Essay Mistakes

If a College Requires a Supplemental Essay, Avoid These Common Errors

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Supplemental essays for college applications can take all kinds of forms, but the majority of them are actually asking a very similar question: "Why do you want to go to our college?"

The question sounds simple, but college admissions officers see the five mistakes below all too frequently. As you write your supplemental essay for your college applications, be sure to steer clear of these common blunders.

1. Vague Language - The Essay Is Generic and Lacking Detail

If a college asks you why you want to attend, be specific. Far too many supplemental essays resemble this Sample essay for Duke University -- the essay says nothing specific about the school in question. Whatever school you are applying to, make sure your essay addresses the particular features of that school that appeal to you.

2. Length - The Essay Is Too Long

Many prompts for the supplemental essay ask you to write a single paragraph or two. Don't go beyond the stated limit. Also realize that a tight and engaging single paragraph is better than two mediocre paragraphs. The admissions officers have thousands of applications to read, and they will appreciate brevity.

3. Lack of Focus -- The Essay Doesn't Answer the Question

If the essay prompt asks you to explain why the college is a good match for your professional interests, don't write an essay about how your friends and brother go to the school. If the prompt asks you how you hope to grow while in college, don't write an essay about how much you want to earn a bachelor's degree. Read the prompt multiple times before writing, and read it again carefully after you've written your essay.

4. Faulty Tone -- You Sound Like a Privileged Snob

"I want to go to Williams because my father and brother both attended Williams..." A better reason to attend a college is because the curriculum matches your academic and professional goals. Essays that focus on legacy status or connections with influential people often fail to answer the question well, and they are likely to create a negative impression.

5. Faulty Tone -- You Sound Too Materialistic

The admissions counselors see a lot of essays that are honest to a fault. Sure, most of us go to college because we want to get a degree and earn a good salary. Don't over-emphasize this point in your essay. If your essay states you want to go to Penn because their business majors earn more money than those from other colleges, you won't impress anyone. You'll sound self-interested and materialistic.
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